Imagining Dystopia—An Interview With Doldrums

By James Li

Airick Woodhead has come a long way. After moving from Toronto to Montreal, Woodhead started recording as Doldrums and got involved in the city’s music scene – even recording his debut album, Lesser Evil, on a laptop borrowed from his friend Grimes. Since then, he’s toured with acts like Crystal Castles and Sleigh Bells, and his sophomore album, The Air Conditioned Nightmare, is out on Sub Pop. Doldrums’ lyrics on The Air Conditioned Nightmare imagines a dystopian future, and the music – skittery sample-heavy electropop cut up with shards of noise and rumbling bass, reflects that. Demo caught up with Doldrums to talk about technology, sci-fi, and DIY culture.

Demo Magazine: The Air Conditioned Nightmare shares its title with a Henry Miller book. Did his writing influence your album at all?

Doldrums: No, I just sampled the title.

DM: There’s a lot of dystopian imagery on your new album. Is any of that influenced by current events?

D: Yeah, I mean, thinking about last summer when every week seemed to bring a new catastrophic event, and the way we experience these very real things through the very coloured lens of the media is an appropriate backdrop for the emotions that these songs deal with. People getting their fear second hand. Struggling with balancing the desire to live well with the enormous guilt of being a contributor to a very broken social and political situation.

DM: “My Friend Simjen” strikes me as a very chaotic song. What’s the story behind it?

D: Yeah, that one we wrote on the Crystal Castles tour, a lot of the songs come out of jams but this one stayed a bit more jammy then the rest. I think they’ll be more like it to come. And yeah, it’s a love song for a computer but I swear I wrote it before Her came out.

DM: Your music has been described as having a punk rock ethos. You’ve played with Spiral Beach, a rock band, before. Is playing punk any different with samplers and turntables than with guitars?

D: Yeah, the whole point of this band seemed to be to make something raw and mechanical at the same time. Like an electronic Sonic Youth or something. It’s not punk rock in the sense that it’s all two minute songs about shitting but it’s punk in the sense that it started from just playing at DIY spaces and within a certain community, with whatever and whoever was around. Obviously things are a bit more professional now but you’d be surprised how sketchy it still gets!

DM: You’ve mentioned before that you don’t like using computers or the Internet much. Has that changed since?

D: Hahaha, I think you must be applying someone’s analysis of what my music is about to my personal life. But actually, yeah, you know when you have a bad breakup and every time you open your computer you see them? That and answering tons of emails are not my favourite part of the day. I’d rather be spending my time making stuff or hanging out. But I recognize that it’s a part of living you have to accept in order to see your projects through.

DM: You used to have a DIY space in Toronto. How does touring internationally compare to playing DIY shows? Do you have a preference?

D: Very different. There was a period of about a year when I started touring that I was just totally unprepared musically for the shift. I had been improvising more and doing performance-oriented things for small crowds of open-minded people, but if you try to do that at bar shows at 9 PM it’s not going to feel like the same experience. Playing DIY spaces you are more adding to the texture of the experience of an event, whereas bar shows you are treated more like a movie. I like doing both though. Nothing feels better than playing a for a big excited crowd.

DM: What have you been listening to lately? Any recommendations?

D: Ratking. The Fugees. Elliott Smith. Tonstartssbandht.

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